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Ethiopia Preparing for War With Somali Islamists, Zenawi Says

 

Ethiopia is preparing for war with Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts following a series of provocative acts by the militia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said today.

The Islamist militia has declared holy war on Ethiopia and is working with foreign anti-Ethiopian forces to wage war on his country, Zenawi said today in parliament in the capital, Addis Ababa. These acts represent ``a clear threat'' to Ethiopia.

``The government is making the necessary preparations for war,'' Zenawi said. ``The government plans to first solve the tensions through negotiation and dialogue, but so far our attempts to do so have failed.''

The Union of Islamic Courts militia seized control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, from U.S.-backed warlords in June and is consolidating its control of the country. The militia, which introduced Islamic law in areas it controls, says it is trying to bring law and security to the nation.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned the conflict could engulf the Horn of Africa region in war, amid accusations that neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea have sent troops to the country and several other nations are providing military aid.

Islamist fighters clashed yesterday with Ethiopian troops near Baidoa, the seat of Ahmed's UN-backed government, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the deputy security chief for the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia.

Clashes

Fighters attacked an Ethiopian convoy in Qasah-Omane, a village 70 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Baidoa, AFP cited Robow as saying. Militiamen exchanged gunfire with Ethiopian troops in Adale, 38 kilometers south of Baidoa, the report said, citing local resident Osman Anteno and unidentified witnesses.

``Any country in the world has the right to take an equal response to any threat it faces,'' Zenawi said today. ``Under international laws, we have the inherent right to defend ourselves.''

The Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia, the legislative body of the Islamic Courts, denied it presents a threat to Ethiopia and vowed to retaliate if attacked.

``We are not a threat to Ethiopia, but the presence of its troops in our country poses a security danger to both Somalia and Ethiopia,'' Abdurahim Ali Muddey, spokesman for the Supreme Council, said in a statement distributed in Addis Ababa today. ``If Ethiopia is going to war with us, we will defend our country,'' he said.

Ethiopia, which supports the UN-backed interim Somali government of President Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed, says it has deployed military trainers across its 2,000-kilometer (1,243- mile) border with Somalia. There are reports that Eritrea has provided weapons to the Islamic Courts militia, according to the U.S. State Department.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a war between May, 1998 and June, 2000 over a disputed border. As many as 100,000 people died and 250,000 people were displaced by the conflict. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.


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